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Embark on an Ozark Odyssey

For a summer vacation loaded with variety,
head for the hills of Arkansas and Missouri.

An Ozark vacation comes awfully close to having something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in history, music, food, natural beauty, or outdoor adventure, the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas and Missouri can offer a memorable trip.


Above: Unparalleled views of the St. Francois Mountains are the reward for climbing Taum Sauk, Missouri’s highest point. Barbara Carrow photo

Below: Expect great barbecue and all the fixin’s at this year’s Bluegrass and BBQ Festival in Branson. Silver Dollar City photo


Civil War Battlefields

Two national parks commemorate major Civil War battles in the region: the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, Mo., and the Battle of Pea Ridge, near Pea Ridge, Ark.

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield and Pea Ridge National Military Park have topnotch visitor centers where you can learn about the battles. Each center has a short video to view, and visitors can walk through well-executed displays containing original artifacts before taking a driving tour through the former battlefields. Signs explain the significance of each stop along the routes. A new museum at the visitor center at Wilson’s Creek is scheduled to open in July, showcasing new exhibits and more artifacts.

Fought in August 1861 during 100-degree heat, the bloody Battle of Wilson’s Creek was a battlefield victory for the Southerners, but Missouri stayed in Union control.

A memorable stop on the Wilson’s Creek driving tour is the home of John Ray, which served as a field hospital for the North and South. During your tour of the Ray house, you’ll see the bed on which the body of Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, the first Northern general to be killed in combat, was placed.

The Pea Ridge campaign of March 1862, an intense two-day battle, kept Confederate forces from marching into Missouri and capturing St. Louis. The Pea Ridge driving tour includes a stop at the reconstructed Elkhorn Tavern, a graceful two-story building surrounded by a rail fence. The original tavern was occupied by the Confederates during the battle and reclaimed by the North a day later.

Music and Food

If you like music and regional food, head to Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., or the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, Ark.

Silver Dollar City’s annual Bluegrass and BBQ festival (May 8–June 1) showcases the top names in bluegrass, as well as up-and-coming talent. This lively kick-off to the summer season draws thousands of bluegrass fans and invariably receives rave reviews.

You can try Ozark-style barbecue at the House of BBQ in Red Gold Heritage Hall or stop by one of the outdoor grills that are set up throughout the park. Barbecue lovers will also want to browse at Bottle Neck Bros. Sauce Shack, which stocks more than 200 different barbecue sauces.

Silver Dollar City also offers camping and cabins at The Wilderness located near the park.

The Ozark Folk Center is dedicated to the preservation of Ozark crafts, herbs, and music. Relax in the center’s spacious auditorium while you listen to artists playing traditional ballads on American folk instruments, such as the dulcimer and mandolin.

In the Craft Village, watch artisans demonstrate their skills from April through November. Just outside the village is the herb greenhouse and gardens. Herbal workshops and dinners are popular events here.

When your stomach starts to rumble, the Ozark Folk Center’s Skillet Restaurant awaits with regional favorites and a hilltop setting that’s second to none. From April through November, enjoy the country menu and weekend buffet from glass-enclosed dining rooms overlooking wildlife-feeding stations.

Cabin rentals also are available at the park.

A Scenery Sampler

Geological occurrences that shaped the Ozarks eons ago have resulted in the hills, streams, caves, and springs that attract outdoor enthusiasts. Sample some of this region’s rugged scenery at three Missouri state parks–Elephant Rocks, Taum Sauk Mountain, and Johnson’s Shut-Ins–located about 120 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Elephant Rocks State Park receives its name from a string of elephant-shaped, red-granite boulders that are scattered within its borders. For a close-up view of these giant rocks, stroll through the mile-long accessible trail that’s also interpreted for guests who are sight-impaired.

At Missouri’s highest point (1,772 feet), Taum Sauk Mountain State Park offers a superb spot for viewing the St. Francois Mountains. The park’s moderately difficult Mina Sauk Falls Trail will lead you through unspoiled wilderness, and during wet weather, you can watch a 132-foot waterfall tumble over rocky ledges. Regardless of the season, stunning vistas will amaze you at every bend of the trail.

It’s easy to see why Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park is a perennial favorite. The East Fork of the Black River gushes and cascades through the park, resulting in potholes, chutes, and gorges. Bring your swim gear and have fun.

The Subterranean Ozarks

Caves are so abundant in Missouri that one of its nicknames is the Cave State. One of the finest examples of these underground marvels is Onondaga Cave, part of the state park system. Take a 75-minute guided tour, during which you’ll also learn about the cave’s intriguing history. It’s not surprising that the National Park Service has placed Onondaga Cave on its list of National Natural Landmarks.

Water, Water Everywhere

Southeast Missouri has numerous floatable rivers, ranging from easy to challenging. Two to consider: the Meramec and the Eleven Point.

Meramec State Park, near the Sullivan, Mo., exit off Interstate 44, provides an excellent base for a Meramec River float trip. Rent a canoe or raft from a park concessionaire and get set for a relaxing trip on this Ozark waterway.

The Eleven Point River well deserves its designation as a National Wild and Scenic River. Intermediate skill is recommended for navigating this secluded, picturesque river. Spring rains swell the river, making it suitable only for those with whitewater experience.

Visitors to Mark Twain National Forest can take a mile-long trail to Greer Spring, which has an average daily flow of 200 million gallons. It is one of the loveliest spots in the Missouri Ozarks. The land surrounding the spring is privately owned and not available for public use. The trailhead for Greer Spring Trail is located on the west side of Missouri Highway 19 about eight miles north of Alton, Mo.

Your trip is likely to make you aware of other sites in the Ozark Mountains that you’d like to explore. Keep a list, and when the time is right, load your car for your next Ozark tour–and don’t be surprised if that trip engenders a new list. Like many others, you may find that the region’s travel possibilities never end.

Barbara Carrow is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

May/June 2014 Issue


For more information, contact:

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield,, (417) 732-2662; Pea Ridge National Military Park,, (479) 451-8122; Silver Dollar City,, (800) 475-9370; Ozark Folk Center,, (870) 269-3851; Missouri State Parks,, (800) 334-6946.

To visit the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. Ask about AAA discounts for Silver Dollar City tickets.


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